Graduate Student Creates First High-Res Maps of Deep Sea Reefs



Matthew Rittinghouse, a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) student at the College of Charleston, is spending part of his summer creating the first-ever high-resolution map of deep reefs near the island of Roatan in Honduras. Dr. Peter Etnoyer, a marine ecologist at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, directed Rittinghouse and the crew of Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Falkor team as they mapped approximately 300 square kilometers of the continental slope reaching depths as deep as 2,500 meters. This significant resource will catapult deep reef research and promote deep reef conservation; it has already inspired development in the College of Charleston’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences.

This is a great step in the development of a stronger relationship with NOAA and Schmidt Ocean,” explains Scott Harris, professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. “We are developing a 24-hour operations lab in the School of Sciences and Mathematics building that will make remote survey of marine realms easier and more direct. We anticipate working closely with NOAA and Schmidt Ocean as students on land and the ship and crew run operations together over Internet-2.”

Rittinghouse started working at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2010 as a volunteer; he then was offered a paid position as a lab technician and physiologist as part of NOAA’s Deep Sea Coral Ecology lab.

“I’ve recently taken a strong interest in predictive habitat modeling, as it represents an excellent cross-section between the science and policy realms. Good predictive models serve to inform policy and assist in the formation and management of marine protected areas (MPAs),” says Rittinghouse. “I intend to continue my work in predictive habitat modeling after I finish my Master’s at the College of Charleston, so the research this cruise assists in is providing me with real world experience in a career field I intend to explore further after graduation.”

Rittinghouse will process and analyze the high-resolution multibeam data as a part of his thesis research.

Working with Dr. Etnoyer has not only given Rittinghouse incredible research opportunities, but has also allowed him to become a published author. He worked with Dr. Etnoyer on a study titled, “A phylogenetic approach to octocoral community structure in the deep Gulf of Mexico,” which was published in 2013.

Additionally, Rittinghouse works with the BEAMS (BEnthic Acoustic Mapping and Survey Program) program at the College of Charleston. The benthic zone is the habitat area on the seafloor, and includes the sediment and subsurface layers. To map the seafloor, students used a multibeam sonar seafloor bathymetry (underwater topography) software called CARIS HIPS which integrates hardware, software, and data to capture, analyze, display and interpret geographic information. Watch a video from a research cruise students participated in.

For more information about Schmidt Ocean Institute’s deep reef mapping project, contact Matthew Rittinghouse at

For more information on the College of Charleston’s sea-floor mapping programs, contact Scott Harris at

One thought on “Graduate Student Creates First High-Res Maps of Deep Sea Reefs

  1. […] generating higher resolution maps to identify deep-sea coral reef habitats. His graduate student, Matt Rittinghouse, has spent the past year generating increasingly higher resolution maps in what I can only assume […]

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